Students learn about the lionfish threat to Bermuda
Almost 500 school students have signed up to learn more about what is potentially the worst ecological disaster to hit the western Atlantic in recent history.
An interactive exhibit on the lionfish, an invasive species depleting juvenile fish stocks around Bermuda, the Caribbean and other regions opens tomorrow.
It is a collaborative effort by the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) and the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force that runs to October 15.
BUEI trustee, Geoffrey Gardner said the bold and colourful exhibit is full of fascinating information about the lionfish invasion and its impact on Bermuda.
The goal is to reach young people in particular to develop their environmental consciousness for future generations.
This is potentially the worst ecological disaster to hit the western Atlantic in our lifetime and we ought to know about it, said Mr Gardner.
It should give them the general picture of what the lionfish invasion is about, the consequences, how its affecting Bermuda and other regions, and what you can do about it.
Its important, particularly for our young children to understand the consequences of introducing an invasive species to Bermuda. The lionfish formed a breeding stock, now theyve spread and theyre destroying reef ecology in the Caribbean.
The threat started in the US where lionfish were kept in salt water aquariums and then tipped into the ocean when owners tired of them. First spotted off the coast of Florida in 1985, they have been in Bermuda for about 13 years.
They appeared in Bermuda fairly early and then appeared down south in the Bahamas to spread fairly rapidly from there down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Now theyre working their way down the South American coastline all the way down through Uruguay where theyll be stopped by low water temperatures, he said.
In the Bahamas the reefs are completely overtaken by lionfish, 88 percent of the fish around some of the reefs there are lionfish; theyll get to a reef and just dominate it, he said.
An aquarium with live lionfish will be on display to be used as part of an experiment by Corey Eddy, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Darmouth.
The exhibit includes large wall-to-wall panels with words and graphics and there will be a dissection station where children can dress up in lab coats to witness dissections.
We can show them whats inside their stomachs and what theyve been eating. Weve found lionfish with 30 to 40 small fish in their stomachs because the lionfish eat indiscriminately, said Mr Gardner.
If something small comes in front of them they eat it and our fish dont know to get out of the way. So theyre vacuuming up all the juvenile fish and juvenile lobsters and all sorts of stuff off our reefs.
The students will also learn about the process of atrophic cascade. For instance, the depletion of parrot fish by lionfish affects the reef because parrot fish eat all the algae off the reef, without that, the reef will eventually die.
Mr Gardner said: The students have that as part of their curriculum and were trying to stretch it across the board for them to learn more about all of these things.
Its designed for children of all ages and adults. We already have over 440 students booked and we would love to see a large percentage of average Bermudians come in to see the exhibit or attend the lectures.
He concluded: When you look around Bermuda you can see all sorts of invasive species that have taken over the native endemic species like the Brazilian pepper, casuarinas and kiskadees.
Were hoping this exhibit will reach the next person who is probably thinking about bringing a snake into Bermuda or things like that, maybe it will stop them from doing that.
With the lionfish it all started because someone got tired of them in a home aquarium and tipped them overboard now theyre destroying the reefs and other species.
Other highlights include a video presentation by Robert Zuill on the hunting techniques and lightning fast reflexes of these predatory fish. The first of a series of lectures will be held on June 4.
For more information about lionfish feeding times and dissection demonstrations go to www.buei.org or visit their Facebook page. BUEI is open seven-days-a-week.